The Roswell Museum Federal Art Center

Classes



Exhibitions
, while diverse and frequently changing, constituted only one part of the Roswell Museum’s programming. Public education was equally important, if not more so, to the Community Art Center Project. The Roswell Museum began offering gallery tours and talks soon after its opening, but the FAP strongly encouraged it to organize art classes as well. Although the museum's local sponsors at the Chaves County Archaeological and Historical Society preferred to focus their energies on history-based exhibitions, the staff started preparing for classes by seeking out potential community collaborators.











After considerable planning and negotiation, the museum started offering classes in late 1938, with courses covering subjects such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and interior design. Since the original museum building did not include classroom space, instructors taught at different locations around town, with sites including the Armory building, the Junior High School, and the San Juan School in Chihuahita, Roswell's Hispanic neighborhood. The museum’s first art instructors, Abraham Slifkin and John Marfyak, were from New York, as part of an exchange program with the New York Art Project. Local art instructor Juanita Lantz also began teaching at the San Juan site in 1939. 

By December 1938, the Roswell Museum had posted the following class schedule:

Child Sculpture: Monday, 3:30-5:30 pm, San Juan School, Abraham Slifkin
Child Drawing: Monday, 3:30-5:30 pm, San Juan School, John Marfyak
Adult Sculpture:: Wednesday, 7:00-9:00 pm, Battery A, Abraham Slifkin
Child Sculpture: Thursday, 3:30-5:30 pm, Battery A, Abraham Slifkin
Drawing and Design: Thursday, 7:00-9:00 pm, Battery A, John Marfyak
Home Planning: Wednesday, 2:00-4:00 pm, Jr. J.S. R206, John Marfyak
Home Planning: Friday, 7:00-9:00 pm, Battery A, John Marfyak

Surviving checklists span from December 1938 through March 1939, with each class lasting four weeks. The sculpture classes focused primarily on clay modeling with an armature, making plaster castings, and other additive techniques, though several students did express interest in carving wood or stone. The home decorating class provided an overview of interior design. Students saved clippings from magazines and newspapers as examples, and their final project consisted of making a scale model of a room.



Surviving attendance lists show that a core of consistent students attended the classes, with women comprising the majority of enrollment. The average enrollment number for the classes taking place in January, February, and March 1939 was 13. Of the three sites, the San Juan School experienced the highest attendance numbers, with an average of 22 students participating in each class between January and March 1939. The lowest-attended course was Home Planning with only 5 students attending each class on average. The museum would continue to sporadically offer classes throughout the remainder of the FAP period, although these attendance lists do not survive. Today, art classes and other public education initiatives constitute a significant part of the museum's operations, with the facility now including classrooms, an auditorium, and a clay studio.

References

Grieve, Victoria. The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Art in Action: American Art Centers and the New Deal. Edited by John Franklin White. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1987.

All other documents come from the Roswell Museum and Art Center WPA Archive.

Robert Sprague, “Museum is of Real Cultural Value to City,” Roswell Daily Record, July 9, 1938.
Russell Vernon Hunter to Robert Sprague, March 21, 1938.
Roland Dickey to Russell Vernon Hunter, December 6, 1938.
Roland Dickey to Russell Vernon Hunter, October 23, 1938. 
Roland Dickey to Russell Vernon Hunter, February 9, 1939. 
John Marfyak to Harry Knight, January 16, 1939.
FAP Forms F-C: Instructor’s Class Records, for December 1938, January 1939, February 1939, March 1939.
Attributed to Abraham Slifkin, “Notes About Sculpture Class,” ca. 1939.

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